The archbishop had called charges against him “absolutely and entirely false” but stepped aside temporarily in December 2013, pending officials’ investigation of charges that he had touched a young man’s buttocks during a group photo on May 5, 2009, following a Confirmation ceremony at the Cathedral of St. Paul.
According to a report in the Star-Tribune:
Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Richard Dusterhoft, the office’s criminal division director, said in a memo that the scenario described in the allegation “seems unlikely.” The allegation accused the archbishop of using a public moment after the confirmation to “sexually touch a random boy openly in front of another clergy member, a deacon, and numerous other confirmands while the confirmands’ family members were preparing to document the moment’’ with photos, Dusterhoft wrote.
“This case was reviewed by an assistant county attorney with many years of experience prosecuting child sex abuse cases,” Dusterhoft’s memo said. “It is that attorney’s experienced and considered opinion that based upon the evidence as presented by police this case could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and should not be charged.”
The charges of inappropriate touching had been brought to police on December 16, following several ongoing cases of alleged abuse by priests in the archdiocese and accusations of cover-up by archdiocesan officials. A mother had told a priest about the alleged touching, and the priest had reported the conversation to the police and to the archdiocese.
Police interviewed the boy on December 18 and 19 regarding his claim that he had been touched by the archbishop. The Star-Tribune reports:
He told police that Nienstedt had one hand on his crosier, a ceremonial staff, and another on the boy’s shoulder, then moved it down his back and buttocks.
“The male said he thought it was ‘creepy’ but did not feel violated,” the memo said. “The male said that he was concerned about the attention the incident was receiving and did not believe the incident was significant.”
A photo of the day shows a group of 13 people. Nienstedt is standing behind the boy, one step up, with his left hand on the crosier and his right hand on the boy’s left shoulder. Police interviewed everyone in the photo and no one reported touching someone as a joke, seeing touching between people or seeing anyone startled.
“The male did not describe any squeezing or rubbing associated with the touch,” Dusterhoft wrote. “Resting a hand on the buttocks, in the context of a group gathering to line up for photos, could be done in a thoughtless, unintentional or accidental manner, without the requisite sexual or aggressive intent required to be proven under the law.”
On December 19, 2013, I reported on the Kresta in the Afternoon Blog that Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, had spoken out in defense of the archbishop, calling the charges “scurrilous.”
The Catholic League had issued a statement, calling on those in attendance for that group photo to come forward with any evidence they had.
Earlier, in November 2013, I reported on unfair and sensationalized media coverage in another case, alleging a cover-up in the Twin Cities. When the media reports resulted in widespread calls for the archbishop to resign, the police department took the unusual step of holding a press conference to clarify that Archbishop Nienstedt had not acted inappropriately and was not being charged with any crime in the case.
It’s been alleged by some that Archbishop Nienstedt has been targeted by political opponents for his support of Church teachings regarding same-sex marriage and ordination of women. In November 2013, I wrote:
“…the media (in Minneapolis-St. Paul and then, across the nation) posted incendiary articles accusing Archbishop Nienstedt of willfully failing to act to implement tough policies to protect the young, as mandated by the USCCB and local law enforcement. Left-leaning activist groups which exist to lobby for tired positions in defense of same-sex marriage and women priests used this opportunity to seek the resignation of their faithful, conservative archbishop.”
On Tuesday, March 11, police once again cleared the archbishop of any wrongdoing. The office began reviewing reports and evidence provided by police in late December and on Tuesday announced that the investigation didn’t support the filing of criminal charges.
Even SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called the most recent allegation against Archbishop Nienstedt “pretty implausible.” In a March 11 statement on the group’s website, SNAP’s Frank Meuers said the group is “grateful that police apparently did investigate this thoroughly.”
So it’s over, at least for now.
Welcome back, Archbishop Nienstedt.